Types of Pallets
No two wood pallets are the same. There are countless different types of wood, different lengths and widths, different numbers of cross-boards; but pallets pretty consistently fall into one of these three styles of construction.
- Block Pallets
- 2-Way Stringer Pallets
- 4-Way Stringer Pallets
Purely based on the weight of the pallet, it is sometimes possible to determine whether it is a soft or hardwood construction (softwood pallets are significantly lighter), however; without being an expert on wood grains and hues, it is difficult to tell different types of wood apart.
There are many rumors circulating about dangers of using wooden pallets in the home because they are pressure treated. They are NOT pressure treated and most pallets in Canada are safe for use in and around the home.
Wooden pallets in manufactured Canada or the States for international trade undergo a pest control treatment called heat treating which involves heating the pallet to minimum core temperature of 56°C for softwoods and 60°C for hardwoods for a minimum of 30 minutes in a kiln. This kills any pests that may have been living in the wood, reducing the risk of cross-border pest contamination. Heat-treated pallets are not harmful to your health.
There is another form of wood treatment called methyl-bromide fumigation. This type of treatment is banned in Canada because it poses a health risk to workers handling the pallets. If you find a methyl bromide fumigated pallet, please do not use it around the home or as firewood, find a waste-removal company who can dispose of it properly.
Some pallets in Canada are made of plywood (thin wooden sheets glued together). These pallets are not treated because the construction process is thought to kill the pests. Because of the gluing process, the pallets do not burn. They may be used for projects but do not have the same rustic appearance as soft or hardwood.
The best way to find a safe pallet for your home project is to look for this stamp on your pallet. This is the accredited heat treatment stamp for regulated wood packaging in Canada regulated by the CWPCA (Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Organization). The CWPCA represent over 85% of the manufactured pallets and wood packaging in Canada.
The United States has a very similar stamp, which can be found on any of their heat-treated wooden packaging. It is recommended that you handle only HT stamped wood for your own safety.
Please note that HT stamps only protect from any pest contamination that occurs before the heat treatment. Contamination from products stored on the pallet after manufacture is not protected against with heat-treatment. Be aware of the risks associated with handling pallets and take the necessary precautions.
The advantage of using pallets over buying lumber is that they are free. Paying any amount of money for pallets is too much money. You should be able to find wooden pallets lying at the end of driveways and near construction sites. Check your local auction site for people giving them away or post a wanted ad. Local construction companies and hardware stores are often happy to give them away for free if you ask nicely because often they otherwise need to pay for removal.
Any small pickup truck, van or medium sized SUV should be able to fit at least a couple pallets in the back with the seats taken out.
The wood used for wooden pallets splinters very easily. It is therefore recommended that you wear gloves and proper footwear when handling them. Sand the pallets thoroughly if you are using them for furniture. When using power tools, read the use manuals carefully and take the necessary precautions. Always keep a clean worksite.